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On Weathering the Unexpected

By Samantha de la Vega

Until I got laid up with a heinous cold, the winter training season had been going well for me. I had been in more of a flow state than normal because I had a cadence that worked and I had recently switched from running and doing strength after work to doing my workouts in the mornings – early. These days, typically I get up between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., depending on the length of the workouts, and I go to bed between 8:30 and 10 p.m. It feels great! Interestingly, I seem to have more hours in the day for family and relaxation now that I don’t have to work out in the evenings. And going to bed early means I wake up more refreshed; even if I used to get the same hours of sleep. I believe it has to do something with the quality of sleep one gets prior to 10 p.m.

But sometimes when things are going the best, something gets put in our path to challenge our sense of ease. My training was all going well until I got slammed with a bad cold that first nailed me in my chest, and then moved to my head. I’ve had no choice but to stay in bed for a week, and set aside my training completely, and the cold still continues. It’s unclear how many more days I’ll be out of training.

As anyone who is training for a big year can attest, this can bring up all sorts of concerns around losing ground, impacting performance, etc., and if you’re like me and have an imminent big run, you might get nervous. I’m doing my first Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R) of the Grand Canyon and March 16, and I want to have a good day. This means consistent and focused training, nutrition, and rest. So when I got sick, and because I love to ponder the aspects of mindset in both training, racing, and day-to-day life, I gave my frame of mind some thought, and came up with a few things to keep me focused on the prize: Initially I told myself, “Ok, you’re sick, so just rest right away and you’ll be fine. Drink fluids, and eat nutritious foods, and you’ll be back before you know it.” However, as the days added up and I saw no end in sight, I started to get frustrated that things weren’t going as I had hoped. This is when I started focusing on the mental aspects of my situation and started focusing on keeping a positive attitude and focusing on small victories to keep my head in the game. Yes, I was in bed for much of the day, but each time I would get up, I’d put away one or two things that had been sitting in a pile, or otherwise were bothering me. I had a laundry basket of clean clothes waiting to be folded and put away, so I started taking a few things out and folding them every time I got up to make tea or eat something. I didn’t try to boil the ocean; I just focused on small victories. If the dishes were piling up, I’d wash a few of them, dry them and put them away. This helped me to avoid the feeling of getting buried under a houseful of chores that weren’t getting done, which often leads to feeling gloomy for me.

I also turned to social media for advice. It’s easy to get into the mindset that I know what’s best for me or that I have to suck it up when I’m sick and not ask for input. Instead, I posted a simple question: What do you do to stay positive when you’re sick and can’t train? I got a number of ideas that I hadn’t thought of, including suggestions to write short stories, learn to knit or crochet, make a collage, and more. Things I genuinely hadn’t thought of. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of I should be fine with this. It’s no big deal. Why do I feel so bad? Why am I getting down? A simply shift in perspective results from asking for input from your friends, and can make a huge difference.

Another thing to remember is you aren’t going to lose that much conditioning in the one or two weeks a typical winter ailment has you down, so don’t make it a bigger deal than it is to simply rest for a bit. You’ll come back stronger than you would if you pushed through and wore yourself down even more.

As with any big goals we have, there are always challenges along the way, and they don’t always look like we expect them to. We may imagine a challenge to be a particularly tough training session, or a big climb in a race, but maybe the real challenge is dealing with keeping a positive mindset when you experience a frustrating setback. Or maybe it’s trudging through the mundane on the way to the big event. Whatever it is, the path is right here, right now, and no lesson is too small to apply to your mental game in preparation for a big race or workout. And remember, justifiable self-pity is the worst kind because it’s easier to stay there longer. If you notice yourself feeling sorry for yourself, shake it off and ask yourself what you can learn from this. Then apply it to your mental game. Life happens as part of the process, not as an aside. Rolling with the real stuff that comes up is what enables us to get to the start…and then hopefully to the finish.

I’ve got some big goals this year, including going back and getting Cascade Crest 100 done (if I get in through the lottery). This is a race I’ve attempted twice and DNF’d (did not finish), so I’m throwing everything I’ve got at getting my tough mountain 100 done this year. This means staying in the game, even through the boring, crappy stuff like getting sick. It sounds like no big deal, but for me, it can be death by a thousand cuts. I’ve got a busy life with lots of responsibility and a demanding job. Ain’t got no time for whining. The name of the game for this year is mental focus. And it starts with now.

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